By Julie Muhlstein Herald Columnist
Nice idea, but I wondered whether a “Safe Place” sign on a bus would make any difference.
In June 2013, I wrote about Cocoon House working with Everett Transit to bring the National Safe Place program to Snohomish County. The aim is for teens in crisis to see black-and-yellow Safe Place signs and ask for help.
In our community, the national program’s lead agency is Cocoon House. The Everett-based nonprofit provides shelter and other services to at-risk young people. Everett Transit was the first local partner, with its staff trained in how to get help when a young person asks.
I wasn’t the only one curious about whether kids would actually see signs and reach out for help.
“It was amazing to see how many calls we got. We honestly anticipated a couple calls,” said Jen Chwalibog, director of development and community relations at Cocoon House.
Between Nov. 1 and July 31, Chwalibog said, Cocoon House received 118 calls related to the Safe Place signs, 62 of them from kids under 18. “And 29 of them were transported to safe housing, typically at Cocoon House,” she said. Some calls have come from parents worried about their kids’ safety, Chwalibog added.
The Safe Place program now has two more local partners, and more are on the way.
Work Force Development Center is the latest agency to put up Safe Place signs at its two locations in Mukilteo. A nonprofit vocational training organization, Work Force Development Center works with high school juniors and seniors, particularly those at risk of dropping out. Students gain job skills while earning academic credit and a modest wage.
“We have actually had students in our program from Cocoon House,” said David Trader, executive director of Work Force Development Center. “We do get students who are already parents at 17 or 18, and some are homeless. It’s nice to have a partnership like that, a place to refer them.”
Trader said students spend half a day at the center, with some working night shifts. “We help them get through school. Some are struggling on the street and have no place to live,” Trader said.
The Safe Place signs are up at both sites where work is done for the aviation, automotive and other industries. Over the summer, 15 young people were being helped by Work Force Development Center. Trader said that number will grow to about 60 once school is in full swing.
Employees of partner agencies are trained in what to do if a young person asks for help. Bus drivers, librarians and the employees at Work Force Development Center know to call Cocoon House, which has its own staff trained as Safe Place “navigators.”
“We have two navigators on call 24-7. They can get a call at 2 in the morning, and will pick up one of our volunteers if they need to transport a youth,” Chwalibog said. If a child needs a ride, two trained adults go together to help.
A teen might be a runaway, a victim of the sex trade, or may have left a dangerous party. Needs can range from a simple ride home to emergency shelter and counseling. “It allows us to reach kids in that moment they want help,” Cocoon House CEO Cassie Franklin said a year ago when the program was launched.
Chwalibog said the volume of calls was a surprise. “We had 21 calls from youth in the first three months we ran the program. In King County in the first three months, they got three calls each month,” she said.
One caller’s plight has stuck with her. “We had one young lady, it was around the holidays last year, and she had a baby,” Chwalibog said. The mom and her infant immediately moved into Cocoon House’s new Maternity Group Home in Arlington. They stayed several months until another stable place was found.
“Sometimes kids are just calling because they’re confused,” Chwalibog said. “They just need someone to talk to for a minute.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Call for help
Young people in crisis may contact Cocoon House at: 425-877-5171.
Learn more about the National Safe Place program at: nationalsafeplace.org.